Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Last: Naruto the Movie—Its Canonical and Apocalyptic

Love hurts, especially for a ninja. Getting your chakra ripped out also kind of stings. Poor Naruto Uzumaki will just have to go through these things as a rite of passage (although he maybe could have skipped the latter). In fact, he is a bit older and perhaps fractionally wiser in the canonical capstone anime feature The Last: Naruto the Movie (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in select cities.

For fans of the Naruto franchise, The Last pays off in a major way. This is no mere one-off shoehorned between the 72 volumes (or 700 chapters of manga), six hundred some television episodes, and ten feature films. It explains the manga’s final epilogue that was generally well received by fans, but came as a bit of a surprise nonetheless. What transpires in The Last will have a direct bearing on the course of Uzumaki’s life, but if that were not enough, the stakes are also apocalyptically high.

As the film opens, Uzumaki basks in his newfound popularity resulting from his heroic war service. Girls are finally talking to him—they are even getting pushy competing for his attention. This rather distresses the shy Hirata Hyuga, who has long carried a torch for the oblivious Uzumaki. Yet, when Hyuga’s younger sister Hanabi is kidnapped, she and Uzumaki are thrown together in the rescue party.

It seems her abduction is related to a doomsday plot launched by Toneri Otsutsuki the last descendent of one of the great ancient clan leaders of the series’ intricate mythology. He intends to crash the moon into the Earth with the help of the Hyuga clan’s superhumanly enhanced eyes. Obviously, Uzumaki is super-motivated to stop Otsutsuki, especially when he realizes he is falling for his former classmate, Hyuga.

Unlike the previous Naruto film, The Road to Ninja, there is no jetting off to an alternate reality and back before anyone is the wiser. Everything counts this time around in a big way. It fills a major remaining gap in Naruto’s saga, wrapping it up in a way that keeps faith with the characters and their fans. For longtime readers and viewers, The Last is more closely akin to the MASH’s emotional sign-off than the wimpering final episode of Seinfeld.

There is considerable character development in The Last (especially by series shōnen anime standards) and a good deal of action. However, the old school hand-to-hand combat always looks far better on screen than the big fiery cosmic clashes, which all sort of blend together after a while. Nonetheless, the focus in The Last is particularly personal, freezing out many long-term supporting players in favor of Uzumaki and Hyuga.

Surely, the Naruto team can go back to the well for plenty more canonical adventures, but The Last would be a very satisfying place to definitively end it. It is a relatively self-contained story arc, so new arrivals should be able to follow and enjoy it well enough, but it really pays dividends to those who have invested in the series—and that’s actually pretty cool to see. A must-see for Naruto loyalists and a strong feature for shōnen enthusiasts in general, The Last: Naruto the Movie opens in select markets beginning this Friday (2/20), with a number of screenings scheduled in New York at the Village East starting this Saturday (2/21).